Wednesday, March 14, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

SWORD ART ONLINE: FATAL BULLET Box art I’ve never been that much into anime in general, but there are a few that I really enjoy, and Sword Art Online (SAO) is one of those special few. I am also a massive fan of MMO’s, so naturally I gravitated towards an anime that revolved around one as well. I fell in love with the main characters, especially protagonists Kirito and Asuna, so I’ve been craving to have more adventures in the SAO universe, yet I have passed on playing the previous games based on this world. But not any more.

Revolving around the second season of the anime, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet takes place in the VR MMO world of Gun Gale Online. For those not familiar with the anime, Fatal Bullet’s backdrop takes place in an online MMO that users play in VR for hyper realistic experiences, though some mysterious deaths started taking place in online world of Gun Gale, and out, which the show’s protagonists investigate. What’s very interesting, and caught me by surprise, is that I fully expected to be playing as the main cast from the show, but it’s actually quite the opposite.

While you’ll have plenty of interaction and cameos from your favorite show characters, you actually play as a completely new character that you create and customize. So, instead of playing as the immensely powerful Kirito, you’re a newcomer to the online world of Gun Gale, which is a slick way to introduce you into the world and the gameplay mechanics. Your best childhood friend is the one that introduced you to Gun Gale Online, and VR MMO’s, which serves as the clever tutorial. Shortly after you start you become separated from your friend by chance, only to stumble upon one of the rarest items in the game that even the best players haven’t found yet.

While you might assume the item in question is a super rare and powerful gun, given that the world is based in a 3rd person shooter, you actually come into possession of an extremely rare and powerful AI that everyone wants. It is an ArFA-sys that you can customize how you wish, one that people will try to steal for themselves throughout your journey. Your luck at finding such a prize so early in your Gun Gale Online career catches the attention of Kirito and gang, which is how you’re introduced to the Sword Art Online characters.

What I really enjoyed about the story is that it wasn’t the stereotypical trope of the world ending, with you as the only savior that can do something about it. Even more so, I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much as I did since I didn’t get to actually play as my favorite characters from the show, but you do get to recruit them into your party and fight alongside them, so it’s an acceptable trade off. There are twists and turns to be found during your adventure that keep you interested, and I was very impressed that they didn’t simply rehash the season and that they created something unique that fits in naturally into the universe.

You begin your adventure by first creating your character, and while it’s not the most in-depth character creator I’ve ever seen, there’s enough choices for height, face, legs and more to fine-tune your male or female look and make them look like they belong in the Sword Art Online universe. You are then thrown into the world in a clever tutorial that has your best friend showing the ropes of how to interact and play in the online world of Gun Gale and the basic combat mechanics.

You primarily explore and run though indoor dungeons, though there are few larger outer world areas that you will traverse to get from place to place and unlock fast travel waypoints. Oddly, the majority of your gameplay will be indoors in cramped bland looking virtual dungeons filled with enemies. These areas are essentially connected rooms and corridors that do allow for a bit of exploration as you make your way to the eventual boss room, which you must defeat to continue on. Aside from the standard enemies you face, these areas feel very desolate and bland, which is kind of a shame, as it’s not like the online world of Gun Gale from the show at all, as you simply clear room after room. That being said, the boss fights are frantic and fun, forcing you to create a well-rounded group of different abilities.

I fully expected this game to feel like a standard 3rd person shooter, but it has a few tweaks to it that I really enjoy and that sets it apart from others. One of the more prevalent things you’ll most likely notice is that there’s absolutely no aim assist when looking down your weapon's sights. This makes it very difficult to shoot at exactly what you’re trying to, especially given that enemies have weak spots that can be exploited for massive damage. Instead, there’s an aiming assist when firing from the hip if you enable it. This allows for much more run-and-gun gameplay, and even though you won’t aim for the weak spots, it’s more than enough to help you get by most enemies. In the beginning I naturally tried to always aim down the sights, but as I played more, the hip fire aim assist became very handy and I found that I rarely tried and manually aim. It takes some getting used to, but I really enjoy it now that I’ve learned its mechanics and limitations.

You begin with some dodge and roll abilities, allowing you to escape fire quickly, but as you progress, and level up, there are a handful of other abilities you can purchase to help you settle into a specific type of roll, even a support one with healing bullets should you wish. While the classes could be more fleshed out and varied, it’s intriguing given the possibilities that you can combine, making for some unique classes and playstyles. You’re also given a grapple hook of sorts in the beginning, which is necessary to scale certain ledges and pull down aerial enemies.

Given that Fatal Bullet takes place in the online online world of Gun Gale, you can fully expect to have access to a slew of different weapons to support whatever play style you want, such as sniper rifles, SMGs, assault rifles, LMG’s, and more. You’ll earn tons of weapons and armor throughout your journey, with big upgrades coming every so often. You’re also able to improve items if you can gather enough of the proper materials, so there’s a hefty RPG system in place that I didn’t expect to be as robust as it really is. The customization is a welcome addition as I was always on the search for rare or better gear, then wanting to improve it, watching my damage and abilities improve. Interestingly, weapons have stat requirements, so the best weapons will require you to dump your skill points into such as strength, dexterity, etc.

Even though Fatal Bullet takes place in a fake MMO, there is an actual online component to play with other players, cooperatively or competitively. While the modes themselves don’t have a lot of depth, as you’re mostly just fighting a boss with, or against, other players, the fact that it’s included for some extra gameplay, to tackle with friends once you’re done, the campaign is a plus.

I absolutely love the source material, so while I love being able to hang out with my favorite characters, I was surprised how much I enjoyed actually playing my own character alongside them. I honestly expected a pretty bland shooter, yet I was surprised with the depth, length, and progression of the game. While fans will get the most out of it, it doesn’t alienate newcomers to the universe either. It’s by no means perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of action packed within, from start to finish, and I think you will too.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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